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Analysis: California Teachers Union expects to lose 4,000 members, gain $2.3M

Mike Antonucci | June 28, 2022

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California Teachers Association headquarters in Burlingame, California. (UnionHalls via Twitter)

It has been the best of times and the worst of times for the California Teachers Association. When the COVID crisis hit, the union received a bunch of protections from the governor and the legislature, including a layoff ban and funding based on pre-COVID enrollment levels. Most districts kept schools closed until fall 2021, in accordance with the union’s wishes. Federal relief funds and a stock market boom led to huge revenue increases. The latest state budget proposal includes a record $128.3 billion for K-12 education. That almost matches the entire state budget of Texas. But it hasn’t been all cakes and ale for the union. Its plan to upend Proposition 13, the state’s landmark property tax limitation law, was defeated at the polls in November 2020. The union has lost more than 35,000 members since its high-water mark in 2018. That’s equivalent to the entire membership of the Colorado Education Association. The California union thinks the bleeding will continue. Its 2022-23 budget assumes a loss of almost 4,000 more working members from March 2022 levels. And there are even bigger worries on the horizon. In her preamble to the budget, obtained exclusively by The 74 and LA School Report, Secretary-Treasurer Leslie Littman singles one out. “Another growing concern is enrollment in California public schools,” she wrote. “The number of students has been steadily declining for years, which studies attributed to excessive cost of living in the state, declining birth rates and migration patterns. But the pandemic exacerbated the decline as parents’ frustration over distance learning intensified. Certain studies project a 9 percent decline in public school enrollment in California within the next 10 years.” Declining birth rates are one thing and should not have been a surprise to either the union or California’s school districts. The other reasons Littman lists are largely the result of state policies. It would take several volumes to explain why California has an excessive cost of living, but I’ll cite just one that’s on everyone’s mind: the price of gasoline. The state has the highest gas tax in the nation, and it is indexed to inflation. One study from 2021 showed that Californians paid $1.18 per gallon in taxes and fees. Littman’s mention of “migration patterns” is a clouded way to reference the growing number of people who are simply leaving. In 2021, 277,000 more people moved out of California than moved in. Most of the leavers are the middle class and the rich. California has, by far, the highest marginal individual income tax rates in the nation. And we need not revisit parents’ frustration over distance learning, although some California teachers union leaders seemed oblivious to it. But membership losses won’t translate into financial pain for the union’s three executive officers and its 415 employees. State dues are indexed to increases in the state’s average teacher salary. Each member will pay the state union $768 in 2022-23, an increase of $15. Despite the projected membership losses, the union will actually rake in $2.3 million more next year, for a total of $214 million, tax-exempt. If you examine the 69-page budget, you will find there is little change to most line items from 2021-22, but there are exceptions. The salaries of the three executive officers will increase by a combined $75,000, and the amount budgeted for their benefits will increase by an additional $75,000. You will also note the salary ranges for various union employees on page 60. Managers’ pay ranges from $206,000 to $264,000. The minimum salary for a professional staffer is just under $95,000. No full-time union employee makes less than $56,448. To those whose world is union headquarters and the state Capitol, things roll merrily along. Meanwhile in the real world, teachers and Californians are voting with their feet. Eventually, those two worlds will collide.

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